Jackie Coogan: From “The Kid” to Uncle Fester

Born this day in 1914, Jackie Coogan was, like Charlie Chaplin, a child performer, and also like Chaplin, was discovered for the movies while performing on the vaudeville stage. Unlike Chaplin, Coogan was discovered by…Charlie Chaplin.

Coogan’s career describes a “U” shape if you were to trace it on a graph. His early star turns in films like the title role in Chaplin’s The Kid (1921)Oliver Twist (1922) and Huckleberry Finn (1931), and many more besides….and then a fallow couple of decades when Hollywood didn’t know what to do with him.

And then he re-emerged as a bald, dumpy, whiny middle-aged man in the late 1940s and suddenly was castable again. His most famous role during these years was of course was Uncle Fester on The Addams Family (1964-66), but he worked almost constantly through the end of his life in 1984, often in bit parts, but by god he was working – -and always recognizable.  (I can see him right now in my mind’s eye, as a bad guy on Hawaii Five O.)

To find out more about  the history of vaudeville, where Jackie Coogan got his start, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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